Harrison Coffman, Sean Childress, Lucian Tomes, Jr., and Christie Troxell
in The Ballad of Night Moose. Photo-Emiy Browne
The Ballad of Night Moose
By Ben Unwin & Lex Mitchell
Directed by Valerie Canon
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2014 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
A parody of hard-boiled police procedurals with a nod to Tarantino, The Ballad of Night Moose seems to know enough about what its about, even if its inclusion in a festival of superhero-themed theatre is up for question.
In a city of the near-future called Chicago 2, police detectives McSmith (Lucian Tomes, Jr.) and Caruso (Kent Carney) are after Manuel (Daniel Smith) the highly comic psychopathic crime lord. To that end they have positioned an undercover officer, Trish (Christie Troxell) in Manuel’s organization who has managed to rise to be one of his top lieutenants. McSmith, a recovering alcoholic, hangs out in a bar with old partner Blast (Sean Childress), an embittered, beaten-down character who imbibes alcohol, sometimes by the bucket.
Manuel rules a gang of thugs called “Jeffs” who are dressed in black with masks and sport numbers on their chests that reflect a descending order of rank. They are played by an adept crew of actors highlighted by Dan Canon and John Aurelius in several nicely played bits of business. He also has a predilection for kinky, S&M sex (he keeps a sex slave he calls “Cabana Boy”) and is casually violent in that way that is always used to identify psychopaths in movies.
The play works best when it remains focused on the investigation and the inter-political machinations within Manuel’s organization, but the introduction of a rapacious, homicidal moose that only appears at night changes the tone and often the focus. It is a deliberately off-the-wall story element that is used to good comic effect, particularly in a scene where the moose stands behind the bar in Blast’s favorite hangout. The moose shows no preference for cops or criminals in his attacks so we cannot exactly count him as hero or villain.
As entertaining as this strange and confounding play manages to be, I’m not certain how well it fits inside the superhero theme of this festival. The one instance in which a character dons a spandex costume seems random and, although the writers may have indeed planned the moment in their original conception of the piece, the complete lack of set-up for the character’s choice begs the question of whether its inclusion was grafted on to fit the festival criteria. The action that character takes is merited, the superhero suit much less so.
Director Valerie Cannon sets a good pace that lags only momentarily in the first act, when some performance dynamic let the tension sag. But overall she gets good effort and effect from her cast, with an appropriately showy but hilarious turn by Daniel Smith as Manuel and a world-weary performance by Sean Childress as Blast. Christie Troxell, Kent Carney and Jake Minton do well in the other primary roles, and Spencer Korcz overcomes the indignity of playing the primary “Cabana Boy” with some grace.
The Ballad of Night Moose
Part of Superhuman: A Festival of New American Superhero Theater
April 10-20, 2014
The Alley Theater
633 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202